When does the statute of limitations clock begin running in multi-phase, multi-building real estate development projects?

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Large, multi-unit, multi-building real estate developments can be seen all over the greater Boston area these days. As with any major project, problems can arise, and what looked like perfect, shiny new building may start to form a few cracks. Once cracks start to appear, when does the statute of limitations clock begin to run?

That was one of the questions in a recent case before the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, D'Allessandro v. Lennar Hingham Holdings, LLC. In D'Allessandro, a large condominium development was constructed in phases over several years in Hingham. In the course of the development's construction, some units and buildings were completed earlier than others, with some units and buildings completed as early as 2010.  The development was completed as a whole in 2015.  By 2017, problems in the common areas of the development had arisen and trustees of the condominium brought suit against the contractors. 

The defendant contractors argued that some of the plaintiff's claims were barred because they lay beyond the statute of repose. Under G.L. c 260 § 2B, the statute of limitations for tort actions arising out of the deficient or negligent planning or construction "of an improvement to real property" is six years after either (1) the opening of the improvement to use, or (2) substantial completion and the taking of possession for occupancy by the owner. The defendants argued that because some buildings and units had been completed by 2010, claims as to those buildings were time barred. The District Court disagreed, and held that under the statute, "improvement to real property" means the entire project, not individual units and buildings. Therefore, the statute of limitations clock was not triggered in 2010 when some units were completed, as the defendants claimed, but when with entire condominium project was completed and turned over, in 2015. Thus, Plaintiff's claims were not time barred because the six-year clock is triggered at the completion of the entire multi-phase, multi-building project. 

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